Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge

01/13/16

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{Grace Bonney with her wife Julia Turshen and their dog Hope!}

I first met Grace Bonney ten years ago in 2006. We were both starting out in our respective paths — Grace had begun writing a design blog called Design*Sponge, and I’d just begun making a go at being a professional artist. The worlds of blogging and art on the internet were really small back then — and so, of course, our paths inevitably crossed. And, over the past ten years, we’ve become friends and during many big life events, confidants. I have always admired Grace for her approach to blogging and to living her life. She is refreshingly brave, straightforward and honest and, in a world of fluff, she has continued to produce rich, meaningful content for over 10 years. Knowing Grace in person, I am pretty sure this comes from a sense of responsibility for the integrity of what she puts into the world. This has never been more apparent than in the past several years. In that time, Grace came out publicly as a lesbian. Instead of doing business as usual, she has used her new lens on the world to reshape how she approaches her content to reflect the rich diversity of the design community. I talked to Grace recently about this shift, about ten years of blogging, and about her openness. I am so honored to present to you my latest (and my first for 2016) interview in my Interviews with People I Admire Series: Grace Bonney!

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{Grace reflects on 100 podcast episodes}

Lisa: Grace, you are one of a handful of women who I think of as the “mothers of design blogging”. You’ve been at this for 10 years and have stayed with it through the changing landscape. Talk briefly about that changing landscape. What was blogging like then and what is blogging like now? What are some of the things that have changed? What challenges do you face now that you didn’t face in 2005?

Grace: I think it’s probably easier to talk about what hasn’t changed. Over the past 11 years of blogging, everything has shifted, from what readers expect to how often we need to post to the entire financial structure supporting online publishing. For me, the biggest struggle is related to how to maintain some sort of a separation between church and state, meaning the integrity of editorial content and the world of ‘native’ advertising (sponsored posts, etc.). The bottom line is that I will always go to battle to protect our editorial voice and preserve its authenticity and openness. But I also want to pay everyone who works for us a living wage. It’s a daily battle, but one I’m thankful for. I realize things could be much, much worse.

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{Grace’s Biz Ladies series is one of the longest running business series for women on the internet}

Lisa: Amidst some of the changes on the most recent years, I know you were feeling a great deal of angst and frustration – you even questioned whether to stay in it. But, thankfully for all of us, you did! And you made some really conscious choices about what you were going to change about your blog, including making a concerted effort for your content and contributors to reflect the rich diversity of the art & design community, something that has been severely lacking in the design blogosphere since its inception. Tell us more about that effort and how it’s changed your blog (and I think the world) for the better.

Grace: I could talk about this all day every day. Coming out (privately in 2011 and publicly in 2013) dramatically affected the way I saw the world and how I experienced almost all information (both news and entertainment) I consumed. I felt much more comfortable, welcomed and included when I saw more out queer people in the design/fashion/lifestyle world and it made me realize what a poor job I was doing of representing all of our community on Design*Sponge. I had a million excuses in my head but not a single one was valid. The bottom line was that I needed to better serve our community and make sure everyone reading felt welcomed, represented and at home. So ever since that moment we’ve worked harder to make sure our content celebrates everyone in our community. Visual representation is a huge part of it, but it’s also about giving people a platform to tell their own stories in their voices. That effort lead to my new book, In The Company of Women, which is coming out this fall. I wanted to see a business/inspiration book that looked like all of the women I knew and admired- not just the ones that fit a certain stereotype perpetuated by the media. I’m so proud of this book and hope that everyone reading will see themselves reflected in one, if not all, of the women in its pages.

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Lisa: Hearing you say this gives me chills! And every time I look at the front page of your blog, I feel it too. So thank you! Next, tell us about your latest book. This book is a labor of love for you, and it’s not entirely design-focused. It’s about actual human beings – a diverse set of women who are exceptionally smart and talented and who have created thriving businesses — in the arts, writing, photography, food, design, acting, and on and on. Why was this the book you wanted to make? And what’s it been like to make it so far? What are your hopes for the book’s impact?

Grace: I was actually under contract to create a massive DIY encyclopedia but my heart wasn’t in it. I kept talking to my wife, Julia about what I actually wanted to do and she said, “Why don’t you ask if you can change it?” I was about to give my advance back when Julia offered to help with a revised book proposal. I turned it in, hoped for the best, and thankfully my publisher, Lia Ronnen, believed in the idea and let me switch topics at the last minute. So I spent my summer traveling across the country with (photographer) Sasha Israel and our project manager, Kelli Kehler, photographing these amazing women and interviewing them in person. I hope the book is something people can return to over and over throughout their lives and their careers when they need inspiration, motivation and ideas that will help them find the courage to do what they love- on their own terms. These women are incredible, but still relatable, examples of what women can do when they’re in charge of their work and their career trajectories. This is, without a doubt, my favorite project I’ve ever had the honor of working on at DS.

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{Some of the amazing women being featured in Grace’s next book}

Lisa: I am always very moved by your courage to write about things in your personal life – like coming out a few years ago, navigating the world of haters, your fears about becoming more at ease in your life and how that might affect your business. Why is it important to write about the stuff that’s personal or scary from time to time – not just for you personally, but for your community of readers?

Grace: I think it’s important for me because I enjoy connecting to people online. I’ve never been someone who had a ton of close friends growing up and connecting- and trusting- other people has always been a challenge for me. Being open and honest online is one way (but I’m sure there are others) that lets me find people who share the same interests, values and ideas. We may not always agree, but the friendships I’ve made online (through being myself and staying open and honest) have been the strongest of my life so far. I don’t think it’s by any means required that all bloggers share personal things, but I think it’s a powerful way to make these connections if that’s what drives and interests you. I think there a million places (thankfully) to find great design advice, cool new shops and interviews, but those personal stories and moments are the truly unique things we have to offer, if that’s what we feel comfortable with.

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{Design Sponge Life & Business column is one of my favorites}

Lisa: I am always interested in how busy, productive women in leadership roles stay grounded in the midst of deadlines and managing both people and content. I know you’ve been working really hard to have more (for lack of a better word) “balance” in your life. How do you balance your life between relaxation/human connection and the crazy amount work that you manage every day to write a popular blog and a giant book. What wisdom do you have for my readers about what’s working for you? What have you had to give up? What have you gained?

Grace: I think it’s a constant struggle, period. There is no perfect place where you have it all figured out and where everything works. There are moments when things feel like clockwork and it all comes together in a smooth, seemingly (but not actually) effortess moment, but there will always be the moments when things smash together in one giant explosion and you have to rebuild and re-learn things. I’ve learned to expect those ups and downs and see them as a way, and an invitation, to learn something new, try a new method of getting something done and to discover a new part of myself I didn’t know existed before. Working on the internet will always keep you on your toes. But I’m really thankful for that- I love having to think on my feet and be open to change. I don’t want to miss out on anything life has to offer, and in my experience, some of the best moments exist in those shaky, wobbly fresh starts.

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{Another thing I love: DIY has always been a part of Design*Sponge}

Lisa: What can we look forward to on Design*Sponge in 2016?

Grace: So much! I feel like this year feels scary and new in all the best ways. I’m launching a print project, our new book and book tour and lots of new online content and new voices being added to the site. I’m ready for 2016 and I can’t wait to start working.

Lisa: Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me for the past 11 years! I can’t wait to see everything you do over the next 11.

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Jude Stewart: Patternalia

12/14/15

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As most of you know, I love a good pattern — I love drawing them, I love designing them, I love decorating with them, I love pinning them. So I was really excited when my friend Tina introduced me to her friend, design writer & creative powerhouse Jude Stewart, who has recently written a fantastic history of patterns. It’s called Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns. This book is for the pattern geek in all of us. Have you ever wondered where stripes, plaids and polka dots came from? Do you squeal with nostalgia when you see a certain fabric or wallpaper pattern from your childhood? Do you wonder about the different kinds of patterns or some of the unwritten rules of pattern making? If so, I guarantee you will love this book.

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Jude about Patternalia — why she made it and what it was like researching it. We also chatted about our own personal relationships to pattern (since we both love the topic). Today in my Interviews with People I Admire series: Jude Stewart!

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Lisa: Jude, first before we dive into the book, tell us about you. Who are you and how do you spend your days?

Jude: Professionally, I’m a writer who wears two hats. I run my own creative agency, Stewart + Company, specializing in content strategy and development for corporate clients. I’m also a journalist writing about graphic design and visual culture.

But professionally is less than half the story, right? On the personal side, I live in Chicago with the two most excellent dudes I know, my husband and 2-year-old son. I’ve lived a bunch of times in Berlin and plan on doing so again this summer. Right now I’m reading Agatha Christie novels like they’re going out of style…

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Lisa: You previously wrote a beautiful book about color called ROY G BIV. Tell us first a little bit about that book.

Jude: First off, thanks for the compliment! To explain the title, ROY G. BIV is a mnemonic for the order of the colors of the rainbow, and the book itself includes a few more shades than the “classic” rainbow, like pink, gray and black.

I like to describe ROY as a “Color-Choose-Your-Adventure”. You can read your way through the rainbow – each chapter is devoted to a single color – or you can hop around following the thematic cross-references that dot the book’s pages. If you’re curious to read all the ways color intersects with bugs or hallucination, ROY can scratch that itch for you. Patternalia follows a similar format. For both color and pattern, I found this a great way to provide a satisfying old-fashioned read while giving reader scope to explore their own interests in a potentially infinite topic.

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Lisa: Why a book about patterns? Why was this the next book you had to make?

Jude: A good chunk of ROY G. BIV deals with the history of material color – how natural dyes and artist’s pigments were produced prior to the invention of synthetic dyes. That topic bumps into textile history over and over, some of which overlapped with weaving techniques and patterns.

But I really got a running start on Patternalia when I wrote a short “patterns are back” trend article for Print in 2009. I thought it’d be fun to find several ways each classic pattern had been used over the centuries, with an eye towards discerning the source of each pattern’s personality. Well, I found a lot of fascinating material but also no one book that answered my questions exactly – which was maddening. If you’re a particular kind of curious, dogged writer, your next book really chooses you that way.

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Lisa: I’m floored at the amount of information in the book! Tell us the process of researching the book. Where do you go to find all of the interesting pattern facts & history? How long did the research take you?

Jude: Ha, forever! Seriously, the research was a bit nutso. I gathered material for about six years total, gaining confidence as I progressed that this odd book could indeed be successfully written. I amassed all kinds of books that weren’t really intended for me: military histories, symbolism dictionaries, mathematics textbooks, textile histories galore… I also relied a lot on charming librarians and hitting up my husband (who’s a music historian) and our many academic buddies.

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Lisa: What is the most (or one or two of the most) fascinating fact(s) you learned while you were writing the book?

Jude: Well, all those military histories of camouflage were totally worth the slog. The story of camouflage is infinitely weirder and more fascinating than I’d imagined. Camouflage rose to prominence in WWI to protect military equipment from aerial reconnaissance – but then it expanded like crazy during WWII to encompass all kinds of of visual sleight-of-hand. It’s a story of inflatable tanks; decoy heads, tanks and cities; magicians sporting colonel stripes; jazzy warships – it goes on and (weirdly) on.

I was also pretty amazed at plaid’s history – more properly called “tartan”. (“Plaid” derives from a Gaelic term for a certain kind of woolen blanket, however it’s patterned. “Tartan” refers to the actual family of patterns.) Nearly everything you think you “know” about tartan is imaginary. Tartan was banned in the UK from 1746 to 1782 – which fueled the pattern’s rise in popularity. But nostalgia for the pattern also made its history fuzzy and rife with frauds. Several confidence men faked finding ancient tartan guides, and most of the “family tartans” we know today are invented, with little basis in fact.

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Lisa: When I was a kid, my dad, who is a mathematician and scientist, introduced me to fractals. I became obsessed with them, looking everywhere in nature for them. In some ways I think that introduction was the beginning of my interest in pattern that eventually led to a career as an artist and pattern designer. What was your first fascination with pattern or something pattern related?

Jude: Nice! Can I borrow that anecdote? 😉 But seriously: I recall a few patterns from my childhood intensely. A tiny bathroom of my grandma’s house in Louisville, Kentucky, was tiled in black-and-white hexagons that, to my eye, looked like interlocking pandas. Her living room was wallpapered Churchill Downs wallpaper. (Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, so horse-love is no joke there. (It only occurred to me later that there were three framed pictures of Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner from the 1970s, and maybe two pictures of grandkids.)

I used to love staring at patterns like these, sizing them up, then sizing them down in your mind’s eye, reverse-engineering how it was made, and – later on – the pleasant difficulty of parsing really complex patterns like Islamic tiling.

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Lisa: Once several years ago, I designed my first repeat pattern that was made entirely of interconnected lines. I used to have an illustration agent, and I remember when I showed this pattern to her she paid me the highest compliment: “I can’t tell where it begins and where it ends!” In other words, she couldn’t tell where the “repeat” began or ended. Making that particular pattern was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done. You’re a writer & journalist, not a pattern designer. Did you have the opportunity in your research to watch a pattern designer at work on the computer or drawing table? Or have you ever attempted to make a repeatable pattern yourself? If so, what was that like for you?

Jude: I would L-O-V-E such an opportunity but haven’t yet had it. I have, however, interviewed many pattern designers about their process and gotten glimpses into how they work. (See my article Sensing a Pattern for Communications Arts.)

I also admire Islamic patterns for the very qualities you describe. That centerlessness is intended as an homage to Allah, who’s everywhere all at once. They also conceived of mathematics, design and spirituality as intertwined, a beautiful way to commune with a higher plane of existence. As I wrote in Patternalia’s introduction, pattern’s whiff of infinity is exciting to me.

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Lisa: What is your favorite pattern motif and why?

Jude: I really like black-and-white checkerboard. It’s clean, fresh, dynamic – it crackles with a certain electricity. It also conveys a surprising range of meanings across cultures. B&W checks can suggest speed (in racing flags), law and order (“Sillitoe tartan” appears on police uniforms in British Commonwealth countries, and here in Chicago), and spiritual protection (in Bali, you can drape B&W-checked fabric called wastra poleng over something you want to shield).

Lisa: Where can people find you on the Internets?

Jude: I’m at www.judestewart.com, but also tweeting up a storm @joodstew.

Lisa: Thank you Jude! I hope all the pattern geeks purchase Patternalia! It’s amazing

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Adam Kurtz

11/25/15

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Earlier this year, I got a friend request on Facebook from a super close friend of my good friend & surrogate-kid-sister Tuesday Bassen (who I interviewed here). His name is Adam Kurtz and he lives in New York. We had 18 friends in common and I noticed he is a fellow illustrator, so I hit “accept.”

In the months that have passed, I’ve gotten to know Adam through Facebook and Instagram, and I’ve fallen head over heals in love — not just with his wit and wisdom — but with his work in general. A few weeks ago, Adam sent me a package containing a bunch of his amazing products which you can see here. I then started reading his fantastic series on the Life & Business section of my friend Grace’s blog Design*Sponge and my crush got even more serious. Last week I sat down virtually with Adam and asked him about his childhood, his work and his voice as an artist. I present to you Adam J. Kurtz, the latest inductee in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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Lisa: Adam, I LOVE YOUR WORK! Tell us about you. Where did you grow up and what was your path to becoming an artist and designer?

Adam: Thank you, Lisa! That’s high praise coming from you (insert incoherent art crush rambling here, then a pause where I regain my dignity). I grew up in Toronto and have always been the “creative child,” which is code for “everyone always bought me art supplies for my birthday.” We moved a few times and I didn’t have a ton of friends in my early teens so I learned basic coding and built fan sites for fun. It was making and exploring those networks of people, just before social media was a thing, that kept me entertained. So I figured I should study graphic design in college, and that’s kind of how it went! Design is so much about organizing other people’s words and images in useful structures, and eventually I decided I wanted to make work that used my own voice. I like to think that’s the difference between art and design, really. Still, my art is all about functional objects. It’s a balloon, it’s a postcard, it’s a pin. It serves a tactile purpose beyond being nice to look at or carrying a message.

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Lisa: One of the reasons I love you & your work is that you tell the truth. Also, you manage to be really funny in your honesty without being overly sarcastic or cutting or mean. Tell us about your “voice” —  and how you express it, not just your work, but also your presence on social media.

Adam: That’s my real voice! I’m kind of an idiot, lots of dad jokes and backhanded compliments. Life is big and scary, but small jokes and those shared experiences are what connects us to each other and makes it okay. The nice thing about being myself full-time (as opposed to making work under a studio of another name) as that I can be that person without worrying about being “off brand.” While there’s a legal difference between Adam J. Kurtz the human and ADAMJK the brand, it’s all still me.

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Lisa: Your work is really conducive to putting on product and you make some amazing product. Tell us what it is about having your work on pins and pennants and balloons and shirts that makes you happy.

Adam: There is something very special about taking a mood or feeling out of your head and putting on a tangible object instead of a tweet or status update. There are a lot of people posting about feeling sad or alone. There are not a lot of people communicating that with a hopeful keychain. For me, it’s therapeutic to say what I need to say this way.

My “ADAMJK GIFT SHOP” is all about exploring what a “gift” really is. Why do we buy small trinkets to begin with? Sometimes we want to remember a place we were. Sometimes we see something that reminds us of someone we love. Sometimes we are feeling sad or happy and want to commemorate that feeling with an impulse buy. Other times we needed to get someone a present because of some holiday or occasion and then we “accidentally” keep it for ourselves. The items I make are simple, and generally inexpensive. I want their value to be defined by how they are selected and gifted to ourselves or others.

I’m not a fine artist, but I don’t consider myself a store either. I am an artist who wants people to easily own something they love. If I was wearing my pretentious glasses right now I’d tell you they’re “artist multiples” but I am wearing contacts today.

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Lisa: Tell us about your new spots on Design*Sponge. I love them!! How did that come about and how much do you love working with Grace?

Adam: Writing for Design*Sponge has been so cool! Grace Bonney is a really smart and funny woman, and I wrote a guest post a long time ago thanks to another contributor, Sabrina Smelko. Grace and I became friends online, and I just kept thinking “wow, I totally agree with almost everything she has to say.” I guess it was mutual enough, because she suggested a monthly column.

I don’t consider myself a true writer (whatever that means????) but it’s been really nice to share some perspective in a fun and maybe unusual way. The response has been so great and I am happy to be a part of such a fantastic blog. Now I’m just embarrassing myself. I love you, Grace!!!!! Okay bye.

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Lisa: Tell us about your book 1 Page at a Time. What’s it about?

Adam: 1 Page at a Time is a goofy little daily journal that asks you to write, draw, reflect, or act every day. Some pages are childish, some are straightforward, and some get weird or dark. The hope is that at the end of the year you have a time capsule of who you were, and you can see how far you’ve gone. It’s loosely based on my annual Unsolicited Advice weekly planners that I self-publish. An editor at Penguin found it on Kickstarter in 2013 and we met for coffee and it just… happened? It still blows my mind, and that was like three years ago.

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There are a lot of journals out there. At first, many people compare 1 Page at a Time to Wreck This Journal, which I totally understand (and we share an editor). Then they’ll come back and be like “hey actually it’s kind of the opposite? I want to save this forever!” The title isn’t even subtle at all – this is totally about making it through, making it yourself, and coming out the other side. It can mark the beginning of a new year, a new journey, or a fresh start. Like a lot of what I make, I try to allude to mental health ideas without being too cheesy or clinical. This is a fun book, but it’s also a book that fucking gets it, because I fucking get it.

A fun part of the book is the hashtag throughout. People all over the world are sharing their pages online in several languages. Though the book reminds you that life is a solo journey and being alone with your thoughts shouldn’t be terrifying, we are also all alone together. My secret hope is that two strangers will find each other through their posted pages. What if people across the world fell in love because their outlook on life totally overlaps? What if two people got married????? Ahhhhhhhh!!!

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Lisa: And you have another book coming out? Can you give us an idea about what it’s about and when it will come out?

Adam: I do! This first book has done well enough that Penguin is like “okay please make another book, we get it, you’re weird, that’s cool.” It will still have interactive elements, but it’s not exactly a journal either. It’s even more me than the first book. It’s darker, it’s more hopeful, it’s more honest, and I really want people to get it and be like “what the hell is this?” and then flip through and feel like they’ve found exactly what they needed in that moment. It’s hard for me to explain exactly what I’m trying to create because I’m still in the middle of it all.

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Lisa: What’s the most fun or wacky illustration job you’ve ever done for a client?

Adam: Earlier this month I got to draw a ton of adderall, that was pretty great! I also do the menus for my local coffee shop in exchange for free drinks. It’s probably the best paying gig I’ve ever had.

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Lisa: What kind of stuff makes you want to get out bed in the morning?

Adam: Almost nothing. Bed is the best.

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Lisa: Where can we find you on the Internets?

Adam: I’m @ADAMJK on all the good stuff!

Lisa: Thank you Adam!! Great having you on the blog today!

Friends, I’ll be back SATURDAY. Yes, Saturday! Confusing, I know, right? I don’t normally blog on the weekends, but I’m having a Small Business Saturday Sale starting Saturday so I’ll be posting some new items in my shop plus a discount code. So stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Janine Vangool: The Typewriter

11/18/15

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{Janine’s latest book: The Typewriter, 2015}

Waaaaay back in 2006, I became acquainted with a woman named Janine Vangool. She owned a small gallery, shop and graphic design studio in Calgary, Alberta, Canada called UPPERCASE. She wrote to me to ask me if I’d be interested in participating in a show in her gallery. I was a brand new artist at the time, and so of course I was thrilled she even noticed my work! And so began our relationship as colleagues and friends that continues today. You might be familiar with UPPERCASE because for the last six years, Janine has been producing one of the most beautiful magazines on the planet — UPPERCASE Magazine. She’s also the designer & publisher of a number of books, including my very first book: A Collection a Day, which came out in 2011.

I have long admired Janine’s design aesthetic and generosity, but what I think bonds us more than anything is that we are both collectors. We love old stuff. It’s what brought us together to collaborate on A Collection a Day, and it’s what brings us together today for this interview. Janine has just published one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever laid my eyes on — and it’s all about one of her greatest passions: The Typewriter. Janine makes beautiful books, but this is by far her tour de force. It’s huge, chock full of hundreds of stunning images and historical information, and beautifully laid out and organized. If you love typewriters, this book is for you.

Today in my Interviews with People I Admire series, I present Janine Vangool!

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{photo credit Heather Saitz}

Lisa: Janine, I am so happy to feature your new book on my blog today. Tell my readers about your publishing company UPPERCASE. You mostly work on publishing a quarterly magazine since 2009, but you’ve also published several books, including this new one. Tell us about how and why you started UPPERCASE.

Janine: I actually started publishing books before I launched the magazine. I had an art gallery and shop, called UPPERCASE gallery books & paper goods, that opened in 2005. I hosted exhibitions in the front of the space, sold other publisher’s books on art and design and also experimented in selling my own products such as greeting cards, sewn goods and handmade notebooks. In the back of the space I did my freelance graphic design for clients. After a while, I enjoyed the challenge of making and selling my own wares more than working for clients, so I began to focus on UPPERCASE. The first books I published were in conjunction with gallery exhibitions.

Old School was one of the early books and exhibitions. Inspired by the aesthetics of old fashioned elementary school, dozens of artists created artwork on the theme. I was happy to have your work in that show! All the artwork was published in a small companion book.

Another successful project was Work/Life, a directory of illustration that has evolved into a series of three books and counting.

I loved publishing so much that a magazine seemed like great way to keep the ideas flowing. UPPERCASE launched in 2009. The following year I had my son and closed the physical store to concentrate on the magazine and publishing projects versus retail.

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Lisa: UPPERCASE has grown into one of the most respected independent magazines in the world. In the age of online magazines, why do people love to get, hold & look at UPPERCASE? What do you think sets UPPERCASE apart from other print magazines?

Janine: Thanks, Lisa! It is sort of strange to think about how much the magazine has evolved since 2009. It has surpassed my initial intentions and expectations in every way. It is such a privilege to still be publishing it nearly seven years on.

The one thing that hasn’t changed through it all is my love of print and so I’m always investing back into the magazine with excellent paper, fun printed features like foils, embossing, special glued-on items like fabric… I’ve also held steadfast to my belief that UPPERCASE will not ever be a digital magazine. Where other magazine might try to do it all with print, apps, digital versions, etc, I like to concentrate on what I love and know the best: ink on paper. If you’re the kind of person who strokes the paper and loves the smell of ink, then UPPERCASE is made for you!

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Lisa: Let’s talk about your new book, The Typewriter. When we first met online back in the day, one of the things that connected us was our mutual love of collecting old, ubiquitous things. You collect many things, but one of your most famous collections are typewriters and typewriter-related things. What lead to this book and why did it feel like an important book for you to make?

Janine: I could credit our collaboration on A Collection a Day for leading me down the collecting path a bit more! I have always loved typewriters, but the machines themselves are so expensive and heavy and take up so much room. But like you, I love to collect things, so I switched my focus to the ephemera of typewriters and typewriting. So other than a collection of prettily coloured Royals from the mid-fifties, my typewriter collection is made of brochures, ads, tins and various small artifacts.

To justify my obsession with collecting these things, I decided to turn it into a book. These artifacts are so intriguing, they really do tell a great story through design and copywriting, about the evolution of modern communications, women in the workplace and of graphic design and advertising as professions, too.

The history of the machine is quite complex and I’m by no means a historian or academic, so The Typewriter book is intended to be a beautiful collection of notable graphics telling its story of the past century and a half.

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Lisa: The book is filled with images and information about vintage typewriters. Tell us about the amount of research and image sourcing you had to do for the book. What was the process like? How long did it take?

Janine: Early on, I was collecting things simply because I like the way they looked. Once I decided to make a book and had an outline of topics, I searched out advertisements and things that could tell the story more completely. It was many many hours on eBay and online searches. The majority of what is in the book are things that I have collected, with the exception of some of the machines and more expensive things that are sources from other collectors.

Though collecting things began years prior, the book itself was a three year project that began with a crowdsourcing campaign. Thanks to hundreds of kind folks, I was able to raise enough preorders to fund the print run of the book.

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Lisa: The book is divided by era. Which typewriter era is your favorite & why?

Janine: I enjoy the 50s, when colourful machines were sold in pink, turquoise, teal and mint. I’m still looking for a sunbeam yellow Royal to complete my collection! I love the glamour and style of that era. My dad also restores vintage cars from the 50s, so growing up I was influenced by that era as well.

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Lisa: Inquiring minds want to know: how many typewriters do you own? Do you use any of them? How easy or difficult is it to find parts and ribbon for them these days?

Janine: I currently have a dozen machines, but some of those are on loan for the book project and I am just their current caretaker. I use my red Royal and turquoise Royal; they continue to work well. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do any major repairs and ribbons are available from online sellers.

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Lisa: If someone is interested in purchasing your book or subscribing to UPPERCASE, where should they go?

Janine: I have a website just about The Typewriter, where folks can see previews of the book and see some of the artifacts as well. My various books, back issues and subscriptions are also available here.

Lisa: Thank you, Janine!

Janine: Thank you, Lisa!

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Have a great day, friends!

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Lea Redmond: Knit the Sky

11/03/15

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Hello friends and happy Tuesday! I am back from my trip to Spain and Portugal, and I am so excited today to share an interview with a really amazing artist and maker.

A few years ago when I was still living in San Francisco, I discovered the work of Lea Redmond (pronounced “Lee”). She was setting up one of her World’s Smallest Post Services at a local shop in San Francisco, and I popped in quickly to check it out. Lea became famous for her teeenneeee weeeneee letters (see below), hand scripted and sent through regular mail; periodically she would set up a live letter-making desk where she created the tiny letters specially for folks who passed by. Shortly after seeing Lea’s work for the first time, I got a surprise email from her asking if I wanted to hang out. A few weeks later, we got together to talk about our mutual love for art, crafts and books at a local pie shop. At that first meeting, Lea began telling me about a book she was beginning to concept — a book all about knitting from patterns that guide you through recording your experience (and not from a traditional knitting pattern). Think of it as a journal of your life, not with a pen and paper, but with knitting needles. That book, thousands of hours and hundreds of balls of yarn later, is finally with us! Knit the Sky: Cultivate Your Creativity with a Playful Way of Knitting was released recently by Storey Publishing. And it’s illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators. the amazing Lauren Nassef.

I sat down virtually with Lea recently to ask her all about her background, her new book and her approach to creativity. Lea is one of the cleverest & smartest women  I have ever met. I think you will enjoy her too, and so I present to you Lea Redmond in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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{Lea holding some of her tiny letters, which she creates with her own hands and a magnifying glass!}

Lisa: Lea, tell my readers a little bit you. Who are you? How did you get started as a maker, as a knitter? What are some of the things you have done before Knit the Sky?

Lea: I have loved making things since I was a wee one. As I grew up, the pinch pots and puffy paint t-shirts of elementary school turned into the wheel-thrown teapots and hand-knit sweaters of high school. And then I largely tucked away my art supplies as I fell in love with ideas at my little liberal arts college, and busied myself with books and writing. My mother was a Montessori preschool teacher and my dad a scuba diver. Combine those influences with some clay, yarn, Thoreau, and Heidegger, and I think that sums me up pretty good.

Back in 2008 I did a quirky art project called the World’s Smallest Post Service in which I set up my tiny post office (wooden roll-top doll desk and all!) around town and transcribed letters for passers-by. I would then send the itty-bitty missive to their recipient with a magnifying glass. To my surprise and delight, people really loved it! I wasn’t trying to start a business, but this project quickly turned into my creative studio, Leafcutter Designs, that offers all sorts of thoughtful objects and playful gifts like Seed Money, Recipe Dice, and Letters To My Future Self.

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{Lea reading from her book Knit the Sky}

Lisa: Your new book Knit the Sky: Cultivate Creativity with a Playful Way of Knitting is different from any knitting book I’ve ever seen! Describe how this book is different from most (or any) knitting books out there and why it was an important book for you to make & put into the world.

Lea: My book offers a way of knitting that is full of adventure, stories, and personal meaning. It’s not instead of typical knitting patterns; it’s simply a compliment to them. The best way to explain is with examples. In one scarf project, you observe the weather and add one stripe per day in yarns that match the color of the sky out your window. In another project, you collect gumballs from machines around town, and the order in which they dispense determines the order of the stripe colors. In yet another, you knit a cowl in the spirit of the moon, which can then be worn to match the current moon phase.

Typically a knitting pattern provides step-by-step technical instructions, charts, and photographs that guide you to make a particular garment in a particular size. These patterns are wonderful, beautiful, and extremely helpful. Pattern design is tough work and I’m so glad there are great designers providing excellent technical guidance for all of us yarn lovers. Most of the playful concepts in my book work just fine with very simple garments, like garter stitch scarves or simple hats, or you can combine them with more challenging patterns by your favorite designers.

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Lisa: How do you hope this book changes people’s experiences with knitting? Or elevates their experience of creativity in general?

Lea: What excites me most is the idea that knitters might read my book and be inspired to knit something that is infused with the unique details of his or her own life. Knitting in this way is almost like keeping a journal. It’s a chance to reflect on life, honor someone important to you, celebrate something, be curious about a place, etc. It’s of course lovely that we end up with a beautiful garment, but that’s almost beside the point for me. In the end, I’m most interested in the experience along the way—the adventure that is the process. (Though I will admit that I truly love that we get to keep a souvenir!)

And even thought Knit The Sky is full of ideas for knitting, I think folks can read it and apply this way of thinking—as well as the particular concepts in the book’s projects—to pretty much any medium of life. Read the book and knit a scarf, or maybe just read the book and plan a dinner party! This way of working goes across medium and—ha ha—the sky is the limit!

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Lisa: What is your favorite project or set of exercises in the book and why?

Lea: The “Mood Ring” project is one of my favorites, probably because the mindfulness involved in making it has the potential to be extremely powerful. Inspired by those dime-store mood rings of childhood, you knit yourself a cowl that tracks your emotions for a month. Each color represents a group of emotions and then every day you take some time to reflect on your inner life and add a few colors to the cowl that match how you’ve been feeling that day. Since you can see the colors from previous days and weeks, reflecting on them might inspire you to change how you spend your time or how you react to various situations, thus affecting your future mood and stripe colors.

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{The work of Illustrator Lauren Nassef}

Lisa: The illustrations are by Lauren Nassef and they are stunning (I am a huge fan of her work!). Why did you select her as your illustrator? What mood did you hope she would be able to capture?

Lea: I agree! I am overjoyed with Lauren’s illustrations for the book. I feel so lucky and grateful to share the pages with her. I was first drawn to Lauren because of her quirky, whimsical compositions. I want to live inside some of her drawings! She takes everyday objects and phenomena and adds a little twist that sparks curiosity, wonder, and delight. I also love her careful, intentional line work. The knitting projects in Knit The Sky are creative and playful, but they are also extremely thought out and full of intention. To me, Lauren’s work with pencil and brush embodies a similar sort of care.

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{Illustration from Knit the Sky}

Lisa: How did you accumulate all the project ideas in the book? Were these ideas you’d been collecting and trying out over the course of years? Or did it happen more recently than that? Did you test them out first (either yourself or with others) to make sure they would work well?

Lea: I first posted my “sky scarf” pattern online back in 2008, so the book is really the slow accumulation of ideas since then, plus a big surge at the end! To dream up these projects, I basically just look around, then maybe read a book, and then look around some more. I find most of my creative inspiration in the details of everyday life—in noticing the extraordinariness of the ordinary. The projects in Knit The Sky are inevitably a reflection of my own life, which is why I included a section at the end about how to invent your own project based on your own life. I can’t wait to see what people dream up!

The projects in the book with trickier elements (like knitting hexagons or the butterfly pattern stitch) were tested by me and the folks at Storey Publishing before the book went to press. There are indeed a few full patterns included (for a basic hat, scarf, cowl, socks, etc.), but this knitting book is vastly less technical than most. My hope is that people mix the concepts with their favorite patterns, or even make up their own!

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{from Knit the Sky}

Lisa: If people are interested in getting to know you and what you do better or in sharing or learning from you, where can people find you online or in real life? (this is where you get to talk about your newsletter, any online places, classes, events, etc!)

Lea: For Knit The Sky related news and events, find me at knitthesky.com. There, we have a calendar of book tour events and workshops I’m teaching. You can find yarn kits to go with some of the projects and can also sign up for the Knit The Sky newsletter. I post whatever I’m currently knitting on Instagram: @lea_redmond. You can find my playful goods and other creative studio work at leafcutterdesigns.com, on IG: @Leafcutter and on Facebook: facebook.com/LeafcutterDesigns

Lisa: Thank you Lea for sharing your genius with us!

Hope everyone has a great week.

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